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Name: Quinn Weaver
Member since: 1999-11-10
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I used to work at Vovida, a start-up that produced open-source voice-over-IP software. We released several stacks for different protocols, and eventually released Vocal under the auspices of Cisco. Vocal provides a complete solution for integrating all kinds of voice-over-IP protocols, including billing and features. Unlike any other product on the market, it's modular and it runs on Linux. If you're interested in such things, I encourage you to check it out. A lot of smart people worked to build it. It's hand to learn to set up, but, then, so is Linux. Some things are worth great effort.

Unfortunately, the Cisco acquisition turned out to be a bad deal for developers; Vovida was sold for much less money than we expected, so our stock turned into less Cisco stock than we had hoped. Like many people, I was embittered. Unlike the rest, I left. I found it very hard to be productive with the resentment I felt. I was the fifteenth employee to start at Vovida and the first to leave after the acquisition.

In a final twist of fate, Cisco announced its first great round of lay-offs just months later. Being an experimental, future-growth endeavor, Vovida was hit hard. All those Vovida employees had to leave before they had a chance to vest more than a quarter of their stock; several vested nothing at all. All left with six months' severance pay, but that's not very much compared to the dreams of a successful start-up. It's funny: We were one of the successful start-ups; acquisition by a big player like Cisco is supposed to be a very good outcome. Ah, well. Everyone was hit hard in 2000.

I will say this for Cisco: They've remained true to the spirit of open source throughout. After they acquired us, they released our whole codebase as free software. The idea is to give away the software and sell the routers. Vocal is still developed with this mission, albeit with fewer people now. I think it has great merit as a business plan, and I still hope to see it succeed. (I wouldn't mind seeing my Cisco stock go back up, either. ;) )

I'm still waiting for someone to set up the first freely available, community Vocal installation, open to use by anyone like IRC. Certain organizations and people could direct their energies much more productively by concentrating on projects like these. It's much more constructive (and much more responsible) to subvert entrenched interests that provide privileged services by building a viable alternative than to try to steal those services. Linux and the BSDs proved this years ago by besting all commercial Unixes. Now we have another false scarcity that could be dispelled by a grass-roots effort, and give way to a great deal more accessibility and creativity. Imagine all the benefits of the flexibility software gives you over hardware, applied to the telephone system. Imagine being able to write your own features, customizing everything about your phone system. Then imagine it being free and open to all, organized in a loose DIY fashion like the Internet itself.

This means you! Get out there and make it happen.

The end of the last century saw a huge rise in volunteer, grass-roots efforts in technology and in art. I'm thinking of the great software projects--GNU, Linux, BSD, Apache, the Internet itself--and events like Burning Man. I hope this trend will continue. It's unlike anything I can remember in history. It's exciting to live in this time, heady to live out on the vanguard and be a part of these movements.


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One of the advantages of free software is that, if you don't get around to doing a project, someone else may do it for you. It turns out this is the case with Vocal. At OSCON this year, I ran into a co-worker, who pointed out the just-released O'Reilly Vocal Book! I was pretty astounded. As Vovida's VP of Engineering put it, "We said we were going to do a lot of things that made people go, 'Yeah, right.' One of them was publishing an O'Reilly book. And now we've done it!"--like so many other outrageous things, like making a totally free H.323, MGCP, and SIP voice over IP system. Vovida was a truly remarkable company. I place it with Red Hat and Cygnus as a truly successful free software business.

A couple of weeks later I was invited to a book-signing party at Cisco. We all caught up and signed each other's copies of the book. (We all appear in the credits--neato. I never thought I'd get my name in an O'Reilly book without actually writing it.)

Well, I think this closes my involvement with Vocal. After I left Cisco, it became yet another thing I planned to do but never got around to. I guess my open-source work ethic needs some work. Still, I'm delighted to see someone else has done up the needed documentation, much better than I could have done. This kind of applied laziness is never guaranteed to work, but it's awfully nice when it does.

By the way, I highly recommend the book. It has a really smart explicit division of material targeted at different audiences: hobbyist, sysadmin (i.e. at an ISP), and developer. Buy it somewhere other than Amazon today. ;)

An utterly crappy day ends with some very good news. I'm so excited I mistype my post egregiously. :)

Well, dang. I take a few days off from reading Slashdot, and look what happens. I'm going to have to do some research and figure out how this relates to my plans.

At first blush, it appears that Bayonne offers communications straight from computers to PSTN* trunking devices.

It also looks as if OSDL could be a really great place to host an experimental Vocal installation.

Hmmmnnn. Food for thought.

*the public switched telephone network, also known in Cisco and other circles as the POTS: plain old telephony system

30 Oct 2001 (updated 2 Nov 2001 at 08:43 UTC) »
San Francisco Perl Mongers

Well, it's official. I'm now the president of San Francisco's Perl Mongers group. (I lost a coin toss with one of the other volunteers when the now-ex-president stepped down, so now I have to assume ultimate responsibility for getting meetings together.)

Add this to work, Dickens Fair (Fezziwig's specifically), and the work I want to do on Tricorder and Vocal, and I'm rapidly approaching overload. I haven't quite reached that point yet, or I wouldn't have accepted the post. Still, something may have to give soon. I don't want free software to be that something.

30 Oct 2001 (updated 1 Nov 2001 at 13:55 UTC) »
SIP and Microsoft

dyork also wrote:

Yet another reason for investing SIP vs. H.323 is the fact that I understand Microsoft's next version of NetMeeting will use SIP as its underlying protocol. I was told that Windows XP would ship with a "SIP-phone" included, although it is hard to understand if that is just another part of Microsoft's "Windows Messenger". In any event, SIP definitely does seem to be on the rise.

Hmmmnnn... now that's an interesting piece of news. I don't keep up as well as I should with Microsoft's plans, so I was unaware of this wrinkle.

In this case, as in so many others, MS is following the industry rather than leading it. I would be shocked if it were not using a broken version of SIP that makes compatibility difficult. However, I think this time the strategy will lose. Vendors have really taken the high road with SIP; they've worked hard to ensure compatibility at events like the SIP Bake- Offs (now renamed to SIP Interoperability Test Events after threats by Pillsbury. Is this country insane?)

When SIP vendors find a part of the standard that needs changing or clarification, it goes into an additional IETF document. (So far they've shied away from modifying the original RFC.) In general, vendors will bend over backwards to interoperate even with other people's broken stacks. I don't think Microsoft can break compatibility even if it tries.

Given that, it would be nice to have a SIP phone on most Windows desktops. It would certainly help increase the popularity of any Vocal service, commercial or otherwise.

Dang... maybe I'll have to break down and buy a copy of Windows. (I was thinking about doing that anyway so I could play with writing Unix-to-Windows-portable Perl programs.)

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